Getting ranked on the first page of Google is a dream for most writers and content creators. Fortunately there are over 229,000,000 pages on Google that will help you achieve that goal. Or you could spend thousands of dollars on Google Ads. The reality is that it is virtually impossible for a new piece of content to rank in the top three Google results. Ranking 13th or the third item on the second page doesn’t suck. And it is a lot more attainable than a page one ranking. You don’t need to beat the top 13 ranked posts, just beat one of the last 7 ranked posts.
I have been blogging off and on for ten years. I write DevelopmentCorporate.com – a blog about enterprise software product management and mergers & acquisitions. I enjoy writing, but I admit that I’m not too good at it. Early in my writing days I was lucky. A post of mine ‘How to Calculate the Enterprise Value of a Private Company’ ranked on the first page of Google. It was an accident. When I was an M&A executive for a private equity backed software firm I was constantly estimating the enterprise value of private companies we were potentially interested in acquiring. Enterprise value is what it costs to buy a company. It is a combination of what its stock is worth, less cash on hand, plus debt. It is easy to calculate enterprise value for public companies, private companies take some effort.
I have rewritten an updated the post many times and it still rates near the bottom of the first page or near the top of the second page. You can check it out here. Here is the Google Search Console report for the last six months:
Over the past 6 months I have had a small side project to see if I can duplicate these results. I am no SEO expert but I have learned a few things and I have had positive results. 32of my blog posts now rank in the top 20 Google SERP results for various long tail keywords. I have dramatically increased the number of times my posts appear in Google searches:
I think that the jump in impressions was due to a Google search algorithm update in mid-June that focused on page content and quality.
Why Ranking 13th Doesn’t Suck
Ranking on the first page of Google is extremely hard to do. It has some tremendous benefits:
Click thru rates for pages that show up in the first 3 positions range from 9.8% to over 31%. For searches in 11th to 20th place the click thru rates vary from 1.12% to 1.19%, with #13 being 1.77%.
The real estate on Google’s page 1 has changed. Now you will often see new features like knowledge boxes or related questions:
These features generally do not appear on page 2 of Google search results.
Another key consideration is related search phrases. If you can rank high for one search term you will likely rank high for related search term. Google’s algorithms are very complicated and comprehensive. It understands that a long tail keyword like “How to Calculate the Enterprise Value of a Private Company” is very similar to “EV for private company”. My post not only ranks for the core search term, but 292 other variants of it. Here is a link to an Excel file that lists all of the other search terms my post ranks for.
Google Search Algorithm Basics
When you look at the top 10 posts on page one they have a few things in common. They come from websites that have a lot of traffic, high domain authority and page authority. Moz, a leading SEO tools company, pioneered Domain Authority and Page Authority. These are the most common free metrics available today that “predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank. Domain Authority is not a metric used by Google in determining search rankings and has no effect on the SERPs.”
Google does not disclose the specifics of the algorithm they use to determine rankings. They frequently make changes to the algorithm. SEO experts and pundits love to speculate about ranking factors and changes. Google does give some hints. They publish a guide called Search Quality Rating. This is a guide Google employees use to rate the quality of web pages. It is over 160 pages. It is not the definitive guide to the Google search algorithm, but it gives a lot of hints as to what is important. Here is a link to a great infographic that covers what SEO experts consider to be the top 200 factors in the Google search algorithm.
Experts agree that a few factors are critically important:
- A Secure and Accessible Website
- Page Speed (Including Mobile Page Speed)
- Mobile Friendliness
- Domain Age, URL, and Authority
- Optimized Content
- Technical SEO
- User Experience (RankBrain)
- Social Signals
- Real Business Information
When you write new content you should pay attention to these factors. You may not be able to control all of these factors, but there are several that you can.
Hacks to Rank in the Top 20
There are several things you can do to improve your chances of a post ranking in the top 20.
1. Key Word Research
If you want your post to rank you need to understand key words. Basic key word research is a must. Google’s goal is to provide the best results possible to your query. Key words are one of the primary ways of meeting this goal. Before you start a new post or page you need to ask what a user would be searching for. If you can base your post or page on terms that a searcher would find relevant you stand a better chance of ranking higher on Google. If you don’t do any key word research you are rolling the dice that your content will actually rank high. As I like to say ‘Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.’
There are several free tools you can use to do basic keyword research. UberSuggest is a good free tool for key word research. For example, here are the results for the search term ‘enterprise value’.
Another tool is Google’s Key Word Planner. It will list key word ideas, estimated search volume, and estimated Google Adword bid costs:
You should test your key word ideas to see what type of volume and competition exist.
2. Write Compelling Content
Once you have an idea of the key words you want to target you need to write truly compelling content. If your content sucks your rankings will as well. Google grades content using its E-A-T factor – expertise, Authority, & Trust. As noted by SEO, Inc.
· “Expertise” – You need to be an expert in your field. Expertise means you need to show the skill of the creator for the Main Content or (MC) and mention it in your content. Expertise is less critical for humor or gossip websites, but it’s vital for medical, financial, or legal websites. The good news is any site can show expertise if the content is truthful and useful for users.https://www.seoinc.com/seo-blog/what-is-e-a-t/
“Authoritativeness” – You need to show that you are an authority or the authoritativeness of the creator for the MC. And you can get this from the expertise of your writers or your self. If your page is a community or forum discussion, the quality of the conversation drives authority. Credentials are necessary, but so are personal experiences like reviews.
“Trustworthiness” – You need to show users they can trust the creator or company of the Main Content, the MC itself and the website. Trustworthiness is especially important for eCommerce websites that ask users for their credit card information. Everything about your site should make users feel safe while they’re visiting. As a starting point, you should immediately implement an SSL certificate on your site as at least 70% of first page results are using SSL (It’s one of many of Googles scoring signals)
You should provide strong evidence to back up the claims you make. It’s important to support the topics that you write about with strong sources. Readers need to see the proof that your recommendations are proven to be effective. There are three forms of evidence that you can include in your articles: personal experiences, credible data sources, and quotes from experts.
3. 1,900 Words is About the Right Length for a Post
A question that will always generate some controversy is “How long should a blog post be in 2019?” Google helpfully provides 5,540,000,000 answers. The consensus is that in 2019 longer posts rank better than short posts. Longer posts provide the opportunity to demonstrate Expertise-Authority-Trust that Google values. They also provide the opportunity to incorporate several variants of the core key word(s) you are targeting.
Studies from two SEO agencies postulate that the ideal high ranking blog post should be between 1,700 and 2,300 words
Readability is an assessment of how easy it is to read and interpret the text of your blog post. Tests like the Flesch–Kincaid readability are commonly used. SEO experts state that you should target an 8th or 9th grade reading level. Evidently readability is not a direct ranking factor for Google. Users tend to spend more time on web pages with good readability scores. Those pages also tend to have lower bounce rates. Higher time on page and lower bounce rates are positives in Google’s ranking algorithms.
5. Technical SEO Hacks
There are a number of things you can do to improve the technical SEO quality of your posts. They include:
Most of these tactics are basic commonsense. A Meta description is an HTML tag that Google uses sometimes to describe the page in search results. An excerpt is specific text you would like Google to use when presenting your page in search results. There is no guarantee that Google will do this. If you do not specify a meta tag or an excerpt Google will generally show the first 200 characters of the post.
There are many free tools you on the web that can help you understand the technical SEO of your post. One of the most popular is the Yoast plugin for WordPress. Yoast runs a number of tests and gives you stop light-like feedback – green is good, yellow is caution, and red is a problem. Here’s a snippet of the Yoast analysis for the enterprise value calculation post:
Adherence to these guidelines will marginally improve your Google rankings, but it will not guarantee that your post will rank in the top 20. I did an experiment where I attempted to get a new post to rank in the top 20 by following these guidelines. SEO David vs Goliath. Guess What? Goliath Wins demonstrated that even by religiously following these guidelines you cannot overcome a fundamental weaknesses in Domain Authority and Page Authority.
Getting on the first page of Google is tough. Ranking #13 however doesn’t suck. It is a reasonable goal that most writers can achieve with effort. Technical SEO may help some, like appropriate key word density. At the end of the day quality in-depth writing and analysis is what makes a blog post attractive and well-ranked. Writers should first focus on what a user’s search intent really is. Then they should focus on writing that meets Googles E-A-T standard – Expertise, Authority, and Trust.